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Why Mom-and-Pop Ski Areas are a Great Choice this Winter

There’s no doubt COVID-19 is complicating this winter ski season. Ski resorts are implementing new protocols and processes to keep everyone safe, but with those come a need to plan ahead and strategize, which is kind of a new game for some of us powder hounds. Plus, with indoor recreation and entertainment limited, ski resorts are expecting an increased number of visitors this winter, just as they’re trying to manage visitation. Egads!

The prospect of reservations systems and crowd management makes some visitors uneasy, but there is another way. Consider visiting the smaller mom-and-pop ski areas. Like the bigger resorts, these small resorts are implementing COVID-19 safety protocols to keep everyone safe. But smaller ski areas are more able to be nimble and also have smaller visitor numbers, so you might not feel as inconvenienced or intimidated. Here’s a few more reasons these mom-and-pop resorts are looking tempting this winter:

They receive primarily local visitation.

In contrast to the larger destination resorts, mom-and-pop ski areas generally cater to the locals, which is ideal. Due to the lack of lodging and high-end amenities, these ski areas are a tough sell to destination travelers, but if you’re just interested in skiing, they’re just the ticket.

You’ll have easy access to your vehicle. 

While some of the bigger ski areas require parking reservations or shuttling from distant lots, at smaller resorts you’re pretty much guaranteed to park slopeside. This is key this winter as resorts big and small are restricting access or altogether closing their lodges. You’ll appreciate the ability to access your vehicle throughout the day for warm-ups, snack breaks and, of course, apres ski.

They’re family-friendly.

Sure, mom-and-pop ski areas usually boast less acreage than the big guys, but that smaller size translates to more freedom for the kids to safely explore. Smaller resorts are also often more focused on catering to new or beginner skiers, with short base areas lifts or first-timer friendly surface lifts.

They’re less expensive.

Lest we forget, this pandemic is bringing with it financial hardship. No frills lift tickets at smaller ski areas on average cost half of what the larger resorts are charging, sometimes even less than that.

This winter isn’t about amenities.

These smaller resorts do one thing and they do it well—lift-accessed skiing and snowboarding. You’re not here for the grand lodges, the spa or the apres ski entertainment. Which is all good, because those amenities are being curtailed at the bigger resorts this winter. Why pay for things you can’t even use? Come for the skiing, stay for the skiing.

There are of course other actions you can take beyond choosing a smaller resort, primarily visiting mid-week and during non-peak times, i.e. avoiding holidays and weekends. Also consider night skiing this winter, which usually translates to fewer crowds and less-expensive lift tickets.

Check out some of our top picks:

CALIFORNIA:

Mt. Baldy: Four chairlifts, 2,100 vertical feet with legitimate freeriding/freesking terrain just outside of Los Angeles. Pay attention to the weather forecast, the sneaky powder days are easy to miss.

Mt. Waterman: This is an absolute classic 40 minutes from Los Angeles. It’s been in operation since 1939 and is only open when it snows. The ski hill boasts great open tree skiing and some steeps.

COLORADO:

Silverton Mountain: One double chair, expert terrain only, no grooming. Some would say this is akin to in-bounds backcountry skiing and snowboarding. The resorts offers guided and unguided skiing, plus cheap heli drops when the conditions line up.

IDAHO:

Lookout Pass: Is right off Interstate 90 on the Montana/Idaho border. It receives more than 400-inches of annual snowfall and the terrain and mountain layout is ideal for families.

Bogus Basin: Bogus is a non-profit ski area outside of Boise. The ski area has a great all-ages ski school, night skiing and a terrain park. Also, great community vibes!

MASSACHUSETES: 

Otis Ridge:  A great beginner hill with $179 season passes. Wow. The family-friendly offerings include season-long kids evening camps and affordable day camps.

MICHIGAN:

Mt. Bohemia: High up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, this small resort boasts bigtime extreme skiing. The average snowfall in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula is 273 inches of dry lake effect snow, there’s no grooming, so get it while it’s fresh!

MONTANA:

Beartooth Basin: If you’ve ever driven the scenic Beartooth Pass outside of Red Lodge into Yellowstone National Park, you might have driven right past this double tow ski area. The ski area is in a steep open cirque, sometimes there’s even a park. It’s only open in the summers when the pass re-opens.

Lost Trail: This little ski area isn’t all that little, with 5 double chairs and three rope tows accessing 1,800 acres across two mountains. The south face is the ultimate destination on powder days, think Vail’s back bowls on a smaller scale.

NEW YORK:

Royal Mountain: A friendly, small town ski hill in upstate NY featuring both manmade and natural snow. Nothing fancy, come for the skiing, stay for the skiing and the friendly locals.

OREGON:

Hoodoo Ski Area: Located in the Cascades of Central Oregon, Hoodoo offers epic discounts like 2-for-1 Military Mondays and Thrifty Thursday $25 dollar all-day and night tickets. Also, night skiing!

UTAH:

Beaver Mountain: A hidden gem in Logan, family owned and operated since 1939. The ski area receives over 400-inches of annual snowfall with 1,700 vertical top to bottom runs. Plus, night skiing!

VERMONT: 

Bolton Valley: This gem of a ski area boasts 6 lifts, 71 trails, and the highest base elevation in the Northeast at 2,100 feet.  With over 300-inches of snowfall every year. The late day and night skiing tickets are the best value.

Mad River Glen: This resort is famous for many things—the single chair, it’s Co-Op ownership, the decision to remain a skiers-only mountain. It’s also famous for its fall line 2,037 vertical feet of expert terrain and a family-friendly layout with a single base area plenty of blues and greens to satisfy every level of skier.

WYOMING: 

Grand Targhee Resort: Just over the pass from Jackson Hole, the family-owned Grand Targhee offers big bowl powder skiing for hardcore locals with plenty of moderate cruisers for their families. This resort is actually the perfect family destination resort, with slopeside lodging and plenty of activities for the whole family.

Annie FastAnnie Fast writes about winter sports and outdoor adventures from her home in Bend, Oregon.You can read more about her and her work at anniefast.com